George Floyd of Richmond? | Richmond Free Press

The life of Richmonder Joshua Lee Lawhon ended on January 16, 2018.

Mr Lawhon suffered irreversible brain damage after being suffocated by two Richmond police officers and two paramedics during a confrontation at his Stockton Street residence on the South Side.

The incident, captured on audio and video via body cameras worn by officers, eerily resembles the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police by suffocation that sparked national and global protests against racial injustice and police brutality .

Unlike Mr. Floyd, Mr. Lawhon had no outstanding charges against him. He was fatally injured, according to court documents, for rejecting an attempt to force him into a mental hospital over his protests.

He suffered brain damage after being handcuffed and having his mouth and nose thrust into a sofa pillow for nearly six minutes, the records show.

His last words: “I can’t breathe.

Unresponsive after officers and paramedics finally stopped holding him, he was rushed to a local hospital and was officially pronounced dead two days later.

While no one involved has been charged in Mr Lawhon’s death, his mother, Angela Lawhon, seeks to hold participants accountable in a $ 25 million wrongful death trial that the Halperin Law Center, based in Henrico, filed in federal court on his behalf.

Ms Lawhon has just received major support from a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th United States Court of Appeals, which concluded that Mr Lawhon’s death was the result of a violation of his constitutional right to be free from “unlawful searches and seizures”. by government officials.

On November 15, the panel delivered that opinion paving the way for a trial against the named defendants – Constables John Edwards and LaShaun Turner and the two emergency medical technicians, Alexander Mayes and Christopher Tenley of the Richmond Ambulance Authority.

The three-judge panel unanimously concluded that United States District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson was correct in ruling that none of the four defendants were immune from prosecution, either under the doctrine of “qualified immunity” which protects officers from negligence lawsuits. or under state Good Samaritan law which generally protects paramedics from liability.

The defendants, while denying some of the allegations, have made important confessions about the circumstances of Mr Lawhon’s death which appear to confirm the direction of Ms Lawhon’s trial.

In response to the lawsuit, Constable Edwards, in an affidavit, admitted to taking Mr. Lawhon to the ground at his residence, handcuffing him and, with the assistance of Constable Turner and the two paramedics, holding him to the ground with his face buried in the pillow. it was on the floor.

According to Ms Lawhon’s lawsuit, the case involves a violation of protocols that explain how police are to handle people in custody, as well as Richmond Ambulance Authority protocols regarding the treatment of people refusing transport.

The danger of suffocating a person lying in handcuffs has long been known, the costume notes. Since at least 2010, the lawsuit says the Richmond Police Department has trained staff, including Constables Edwards and Turner, on the need to reposition those in custody.

The police department also issued a general order to officers not to keep suspects face down longer than necessary.

In his opinion, the judges of the court of appeal noted that Mr. Lawhon “had not committed any crime”.

Officers had attended his residence in the 3600 block of Stockton Street in response to a 911 call from his roommate, Shaunna Tunstall, who wanted Mr Lawhon, a diagnosed schizophrenic, to be hospitalized.

According to a transcript of the body camera audio, Mr. Lawhon refused the officers’ request to accompany them and asked them to leave.

Officers first requested an RAA ambulance to respond and check on Mr. Lawhon. After Mr Mayes and Mr Tenley arrived, Mr Lawhon again admitted to them that he had taken too many prescription drugs which caused him to fall and hit his nose resulting in bled.

Mr Lawhon told paramedics he was not trying to harm himself, was not suicidal, and had no intention of harming anyone else .

Paramedics told police that Mr. Lawhon did not meet the criteria for an involuntary engagement, requiring a finding that a person could pose a danger to themselves or to others. Ms Tunstall, although she expressed no concerns for her safety, continued to urge officers to take her to hospital.

One EMT noted that taking it based on its responses “would amount to kidnapping.”

According to RAA policy, a patient has the right to refuse to be transported and paramedics are advised to leave when this occurs.

Nonetheless, the police violated Mr. Lawhon’s rights without justification, according to the appeal court’s opinion.

Writing for the panel, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said officers used excessive force.

With Mr. Lawhon “handcuffed, he could not pose any risk to the safety of officers or others and, viewing the evidence in the best light of (the applicant), he did not actively resist or attempt to ‘escape the agents.

“We also take into account the severity of the injuries in determining whether the officers used excessive force,” Justice Motz continued. “Here Lawhon suffered the most serious injury possible: death.

“There is no doubt,” she wrote, “that continuing to apply force to a secure, unarmed man, to effect a seizure for which the individual’s own advantage is the only justification, constitutes a excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. “

She said that in previous cases the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied “qualified immunity” to officers who have used excessive force on obstructed persons.

She also noted that other federal circuit courts have agreed that “the specific conduct of creating conditions of suffocation by applying force to a person’s body while maintaining them in a supine (face-down) position. low) constitutes excessive force ”.

Mr. Tenley is still employed by RAA; Mr. Mayes is not, according to ambulance authorities.

Constable Edwards has left the Richmond Police Department. Officer Turner is still on active duty and was one of four officers who received a Lifesaving Medal later in 2018 for preventing a woman from taking her own life.

Richmond Commonwealth attorney Colette W. McEachin did not respond to a request for comment on the case and the decision not to press charges. The US Department of Justice, which has the power to lay charges in cases where a person’s civil rights have been violated, also did not intervene in the case.

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